Famous Lights

Boston Lighthouse, Little Brewster Island

The information contained in this section is taken verbatim from HISTORICALLY FAMOUS LIGHTHOUSES - CG-232. Although the format has been changed slightly for better reading and display. BJ 'n Cindy

BOSTON LIGHTHOUSE, LITTLE BREWSTER ISLAND - MASSACHUSETTS
The first lighthouse established in America was on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor and was first lit September 14, 1716. A tonnage tax of 1 penny per ton on all vessels, except coasters, moving in or out of Boston Harbor, paid for maintaining the light.

The first keeper, George Worthylake, with a salary of £50 a year, also acted as pilot for vessels entering the harbor. In 1718 he and his wife and daughter, with two men, were drowned when the lighthouse boat capsized as they were returning to the island from Boston. Young Benjamin Franklin, then a printer in Boston, wrote a ballad about the incident entitled "Lighthouse Tragedy" and sold it on the streets of Boston.

The pay of Keeper John Hayes was raised to £70 in 1718 so that he would not be obliged to entertain mariners on the island for extra money which he found "prejudicial to himself as well as to the town of Boston." In 1719 he asked "That a great Gun may be placed on Said Island to answer Ships in a Fogg" and one was supplied that year on which the date 1700 was engraved. The gun is shown on a mezzo-tint engraving of Boston Light made by Burgess in 1729.

Hayes’ successor in 1734 was Robert Ball who petitioned the general court for preference in piloting vessels into the harbor. The court designated him as "established pilot" of the harbor for the next 3 years. In 1751 the lighthouse was badly damaged by fire so that only the walls remained.

In 1774 the British took over the island and in 1775 the harbor was blocked and the lighthouse became useless. On July 20, 1775, a small detachment of American troops under Major Voss visited the island and burned the wooden parts of the lighthouse. The British began to repair it under a marine guard, when General Washington dispatched Major Tupper with 300 men in whale-boats on July 31, 1775, who defeated the guard and destroyed the repair work done. They were intercepted on leaving by British small boats and attacked. A direct hit on one of the English boats by an American field piece on Nantasket Head, caused the British to retire to their boats with comparatively heavy losses. Only one American was killed. Major Tupper and his men were commended by General Washington.

When the British left Boston, March 17, 1776, a number of their ships remained in the harbor. On June 13, 1776, American soldiers landed on Long Island, Boston Harbor, and at Nantasket Hill and opened fire on this fleet who were soon at their mercy. Before sailing away, the British sent a boat ashore at Boston Light and left a time charge which blew up the lighthouse. The top of the old lighthouse was used to supply ladles for American cannon.

In 1783 the Massachusetts Legislature supplied £1,450 to erect a new lighthouse on the site of the old. This new lighthouse, which still stands, was 75 feet high with walls 71.2 feet thick at the base, tapering to 2 feet 6 inches at the top. The octagonal lantern was 15 feet high and 8 feet in diameter. Thomas Knox was appointed keeper.

On June 10, 1790, the Boston Light was ceded to the new Federal Government. In 1811, Jonathan Bruce became keeper. He and his wife witnessed the thrilling encounter between the American ship Chesapeake and the British ship Shannon on June 1, 1813, when Captain Lawrence, of the Chesapeake muttered the immortal words "Don’t give up the ship," as he was being lowered, mortally wounded, through the companionway. Nine minutes later, however, his crew was forced to surrender.

While Captain Tobias Cook of Cohasset was keeper in 1844 a "Spanish" cigar factory was set up on the island, with young girls brought from Boston to work in it, in an effort to deceive Boston smokers that the cigars manufactured there were imported. This business was soon broken up, however, as a fraud.

In 1856, the height of the tower was raised to 98 feet and it was listed as a second-order station. On November 2, 1861, the square rigger Maritana, 991 tons, which had sailed from Liverpool 38 days earlier, with Captain Williams, ran into heavy seas in Massachusetts Bay and approached Boston in a blinding snow, driven by a howling southeaster. At 1 o’clock in the morning of Novemher 3, she sighted Boston Light and headed for it, but crashed on Shag Rocks soon after, with passengers and crew ordered into the weather chains after the crew had cut the masts away. The ship broke in two and Captain Williams was crushed to death, but seven persons floated to Shag Rocks atop the pilot house, while five others swam to the ledge, as fragments of the wreckage started coming ashore on both sides of Little Brewster Island. A dory from the pilot boat rescued the survivors from the rocks.  When the Fanny Pike went ashore on Shag Rocks in 1882, Keeper Thomas Bates rowed out and took the crew safely off the ledge.

In 1893 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sent 20 or 30 students to live on the island, while experiments were made with various types of foghorns in an endeavor to find one that would penetrate the area known as the "Ghost Walk" 6 or 7 miles to the east.

On Christmas Day 1909 the five-masted schooner Davis Palmer, heavily loaded with coal, hit Finn’s ledge and went down with all hands.

When the U. S. S. Alacrity was wrecked on the ice-covered ledges off the island on February 3, 1918, Keeper Jennings and his assistants made four attempts to shoot a rope to the doomed ship but each time the rope parted. Jennings brought the lighthouse dory to the shore, and, assisted by two naval reservists, pushed it over the ice and into the surf. Twenty-four men were clinging to the wreck in perilous positions when he reached it after a dangerous trip. Flinging a line aboard, they began the rescue of the half-frozen sailors, four times running the gantlet of ice, rocks, and surf until all 24 men were saved. For this Jennings received a letter of commendation from Secretary Redfield.

During World War II the light was extinguished as a security measure, but was again placed in operation July 2, 1945. The station is equipped with a 1,800,000 candlepower light visible for 16 miles. (5)